Good Nutrition can Keep you Healthy from the Neck Up, too

We often think of fueling our bodies with the right foods to achieve optimal performance as warfighters, and of course to manage our weight and overall waisthealth. The benefits of proper nutrition don’t stop there though. Healthy eating habits not only help you stay fit from the neck down, but from the neck up. As we recognize Navy Nutrition Month throughout March, get the skinny on keeping your mind and body nourished, and “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.”

Combatting stress with a good diet doesn’t start once your conscience kicks in after that second helping of your go-to comfort food, but should be a proactive and ongoing effort. Research shows that people are more likely to select food for taste over nutritional value—but nutritious and delicious foods are easier to find than you may think.

Did you know omega-3 fatty acids have been found to aid in the prevention of stress through their essential role in brain biochemistry?  Rather than experimenting with the unknowns of nutritional supplements (that do not require approval from the Food and Drug Administration), go for naturally-occurring sources of omega-3s. Salmon, eggs and lean meats are excellent—and tasty—suppliers of these vital nutrients and each help you incorporate more protein into your diet, the healthy way.

Why protein to reduce stress? Protein supplies the brain with amino acids, helping to promote healthy brain function through the steady creation of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that carry and regulate signals throughout the body).  Quality protein can be found in a variety of sources, not just meat and dairy products. Try pairing your salmon with a side of black beans, or reach for a handful of raw almonds instead of going for the cookies when you’re stressed.

And then there’s sugar. We all know that tense situations and stress can lead to cravings, particularly for sugar. While glucose is essential for our bodies to function, our body’s sugar supply needs to be slow and steady for good performance. Added sugar can cause your glucose levels to spike, then fall rapidly, thus intensifying cravings and impacting alertness and decision-making abilities, so avoid those peaks and valleys from sources such as sugary drinks, sweet desserts or additives. To find balance, incorporate more of your favorite complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains and fruits, to satisfy your sweet tooth, while allowing yourself to have small portions versus the “cold turkey” route. Try a banana and peanut butter sandwich – a healthy, sweet, delicious and protein-packed alternative to your vending machine favorites.

Hungry for more? During the month of March and throughout the year, the Navy has a buffet of resources to support making healthy choices every day. Check out our feature in All Hands Magazine for more tips, and visit Navy Nutrition and Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center to help you incorporate the nutrients you need to stay fit from the neck down—and up.

Laughter is good medicine for stress relief! Navy Operational Stress Control and Suicide Prevention would like to thank cartoonist Jeff Bacon for his continued support.

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